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Can we have a close reason such as this:

Questions that don't give information about what has been tried are off-topic for Lifehacks. Questions searching for a substitute tool require a reason why the conventional tool is not an option.

I think most of us have already agreed that the above is off-topic. From the scope:

Because a lifehack is an alternative solution to a problem, it is necessary for us to know exactly what solution the person asking the question has tried and/or the reason(s) why they aren't satisfied with the use of that method, in order to solve the problem.

If the question is not looking for an alternative to a product or solution that they have tried, then that question is off-topic on this site.

  • 4
    I think there also needs to be a clarification that a description of why a substitute tool is necessary is required – Zach Saucier Dec 19 '14 at 5:09
  • @ZachSaucier How's that? – Mooseman Dec 19 '14 at 13:07
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I don't think this is a good use case for a close reason. Not every question needs a historical context or show of prior efforts. If I want to know what to do with those slivers of soap that are too small to bathe with, rubber-stamping everything with "what have you tried?" makes little sense. But adding it as an explicit close reason has the effect of doing just that; it's an administrative edict saying "everything must include this information, universally, or it does not belong here. Period." That's what off-topic means.

Unfortunately, listing something as an official reason to close a post has a tendency to also over-train the community that this particularly "rule" is also doctrine. I.e. "Please note: If you see a question like this, it should be closed."

I DO understand the initial reasoning behind this — when someone asks how to get rid of roaches, you want to ask what's wrong with bug spray? Asking users to provide a bit of context would be useful guidance for your Help Center. But I've seen this overly-broad "requirement" put into use in actual practice over the last few days, and what I observed was users running around dropping "what have you tried" comments everywhere regardless of actual need or context. Not only didn't most of those questions need further clarification, but the indiscriminate repetition of these comments made the site look somewhat unfriendly… and at times, even a bit harassing. I know that was not the intention, but when you have a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail.

That's what close reasons do.

We don't want to create a situation where everyone is being explicitly directed to rubber stamp every question that doesn't give a historical context and prior efforts. Not every question needs that. If it does, you should explain your concerns in a comment and either help fix the question or vote to close it as 'unclear what you are asking' or 'off topic' (with some thoughtful guidance about your concerns and how they can be addressed). But creating an explicit close reason, I believe, would be a really bad move for this site.

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    Makes sense. I do think there should be specific close reasons at some point down the road though. – Mooseman Dec 19 '14 at 19:57
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The close votes for this reason haven't slowed down, despite this being rejected.

Despite Robert's answer about why there should be no such custom close reason, I keep seeing this comment entered over and over on questions along with close votes. So people are still hammering and treating this like an indisputable rule... they're just using the Off-Topic close reason instead of a custom one. I feel like this ignores the point of his answer.

Sometimes you don't know what to try

What is the best way to tumble-dry wet sneakers?

This thing has been closed, reopened, and is halfway to being closed again because there isn't a list of things that have been tried and failed. What, exactly, is the obvious answer to this problem that he should list trying before we allow it to be open? Because by default, it's "Toss them in there and hope for the best". Is that not good enough? If it is, do we really need him to say it? If it's not, how are we ranking what's a good enough try? If he says "I threw a blanket in there with them, but it was still loud" is this suddenly an on-topic question when before it wasn't? I would submit that anyone who answers "yes" to that is dooming this to be a very unfriendly place to new users, and that they should look at both versions of the question when deciding whether or not requiring that minor change actually made it any better.

What happens when people have the same question but tried different things?

By building this requirement to list what you tried into a question, we're unreasonably narrowing the scope of questions in some case. The top answer to the tumble-dry question is "wrap them in bath towels". Let's say I try that and it doesn't work at all for me. Should I post a whole new question, saying I tried that answer and that it didn't work for me, and thus I need a different hack? After all, my question is different, since I have a different set of things I tried and failed at. I would hope, however, we would still think of these questions as duplicates... just because one of the possible solutions didn't work for me shouldn't mean I ask a whole new question just to rule that solution out. This seems pretty obvious, but causes a problem when you flip it.

What happens when the potentially best answer didn't work for the original asker?

So let's say hypothetically that for 95% of people, doing this crazy thing works like a charm. People all over the internet are saying "Wow, great lifehack! That totally fixes this issue for me!" Except, then consider that maybe the very first person who came here to ask about it is in that 5% that it doesn't work for, and already knew that answer and tried it. Maybe their shoelaces are too short, or frayed, or they otherwise can't use that solution. So, right there in their question, they say they tried it, it didn't work for them, and it is ruled out as a possible answer. Now our site has a question about tumble-drying sneakers where a very good answer that would help a ton of people isn't allowed specifically because it was ruled out in the initial question as a possible answer. It goes back to the point above... do we now allow a duplicate version of the question, which is the same in all respects except for the "What have you tried that didn't work?" part, and splinter our answers between the two questions. I hope everyone thinks that's a bad idea.

We shouldn't require users to bake potential answers right into the question

And that's the problem. We're baking "failed" answers right into the question, which doesn't work well in the StackExchange model. It throws off the standard practice for how duplication works and also leads to a pretty unfriendly atmosphere where you come here looking to solve a problem and get smacked down for not listing the things you've tried.

This rule doesn't actually force questions to get any better

We're really just paying lip service to the perceived problem we're trying to avoid, which is avoiding people asking questions with obvious, common-sense answers. Take just about any answer to the tumble-dry sneakers question and I can post a version that says "Yeah, I tried that but didn't work for me". What, are you going to come to my house and check that I'm telling the truth? But I've now satisfied your "Tell me what you've tried" requirement, so you can no longer close me for that reason. You'll have to find a new one. It turns this into a pointless exercise where we're using close votes to get rid of bad, unresearched questions when we should be relying on the standard practice of downvoting bad questions. Remember, close votes should not be treated like super downvotes.

This policy doesn't seem to solve any problems

So, I've listed a bunch of problems I think this policy causes. What does it fix? Nothing that can't already be handled in the current system, in my opinion. I believe it is attempting to fix the following:

  • Get rid of unresearched questions with common-sense answers. There's already a mechanism for discouraging bad questions on StackExchange: Downvoting.
  • Clarify the question so that we better understand why they're having a problem in the first place. There is already a close reason for this: Unclear what you're asking.
  • Narrow the scope of the site so that only questions with "hacky" answers appear: I don't think it manages to solve this, and I detest the idea that an answer to a question determines whether the question was on-topic in the first place. And our inability to really get past this, despite this recent effort, might be the most damning evidence that this site won't work.
  • I...agree. I guess that means the world must burn. – fbueckert Dec 22 '14 at 18:53
  • "Narrow the scope of the site so that only questions with 'hacky' answers appear" - this was the main reason why it was put into the scope in the first place. In this answer you don't provide much reason why you don't think it manages to solve it nor provide a solution to solve it – Zach Saucier Dec 22 '14 at 18:54
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    @ZachSaucier The reason lies under the This rule doesn't actually force questions to get any better section. I can make up any old thing I tried and say it didn't work. Viola! Suddenly, my question is on-topic. The site was not saved... I just had to go put something in there to satisfy the rule. – Sterno Dec 22 '14 at 18:56
  • Let's flip it around, @ZachSaucier. In your opinion, has closing questions for this reason actually worked to limit us to only "hacky" questions or improved things in any other way? – Sterno Dec 22 '14 at 18:58
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    @ZachSaucier Additionally, Sterno doesn't need to provide a solution to solve that problem to explain why this solution doesn't work. If we can't come up with a solution to the problem of "Narrow the scope of the site so that only questions with 'hacky' answers appear" then we don't just pick the best solution which doesn't work, we just add it to the list of problems with the site which will prevent it from working. – Wipqozn Dec 22 '14 at 18:59
  • @Sterno I do believe they helped improve question and answer quality – Zach Saucier Dec 22 '14 at 19:00
  • @ZachSaucier You might be right. Can you point to one or two questions (that weren't obvious trolls) that this policy saved us from? It might be useful to see some of those cases. – Sterno Dec 22 '14 at 19:01
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    @Zach They have. But they have done a lot of bad too, and a close reason (as @Robert) says would not be sensible. I'm sure there is another way of classifying whether a question needs to be closed. For example, one of mine was off topic, so I made up some rubbish and chucked it in there. I believe that did not help at all - and a lot of people are doing that. – Tim Dec 22 '14 at 19:02
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    Another question I'd ask is what problem(s) you currently see with the sneakers question that you feel would be fixed once the "What have you tried?" has been answered, beyond simply "Well, we said we were going to require it, so by God, we're going to require it!" – Sterno Dec 22 '14 at 19:03
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    @Zach this is a perfect example: lifehacks.stackexchange.com/revisions/2002/2 - because I made up something (that was wrong - my diagram is nonsense) it got reopened. There was no need for that question to have the what have you tried, and me adding it was pointless and a waste of time - merely to satisfy the requirements that have been created. – Tim Dec 22 '14 at 19:06
  • @Sterno I believe that most all questions are made better by it, but in particular my questions are of much higher quality than they would be without the thought of "what have you tried" or at least why the standard solution won't work – Zach Saucier Dec 22 '14 at 19:15
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What have you tired in a question makes a much better question, easier to answer and helps the person answering it to have a more terse and direct answer to the OP's problem with some questions. Having said that, it does not mean that it is necessary to have tried solutions in a question. Many question of high quality can define the scope of the question without the use of tried solutions. Including tried solutions may help define scope, but it is answering your own question within the scope of a question in some cases. This may not help the answers at all, since it may very will be that the real problem is a bad application of a hack by the OP that is the problem, and quality answers might not come if the OP has already said they have tried something.

I would say with some questions asking the OP in the comments if they have tried anything is OK if it helps define a vague question. However it is a very silly reason to close a question if the question is clear in its intend and the scope is within LifeHacks.

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I would say that this would work in some instances and not be desirable in the other instances. For example:

  • Some one needs something done in a alternative method, but hasn't tried anything yet. - Close.

  • Some one needs something done in a alternative method, but doesn't have the means or time to even attempt it.- I think leave it open, but the message your asking for would close it.

From the Scope:

One thing that is needed for this scope to work that hadn't been discussed on Meta before is the necessity of the "what have you tried" section. Because a lifehack is an alternative solution to a problem, it is necessary for us to know exactly what solution the person asking the question has tried and/or the reason(s) why they aren't satisfied with the use of that method, in order to solve the problem.

If the question is not looking for an alternative to a product or solution that they have tried, then that question is off-topic on this site. Because a lifehack is an alternative to a solution or product that is unavailable or undesirable, we need to know what product or solution they are trying to work around. Unfortunately, this will probably leave some questions without a site to be asked on, but we simply can not take every question if we expect to have any sort of quality control.

So from the scope of Life Hacks, it appears that having tried nothing is sort of both on topic and off-topic as a alternative method.

  • So for "Some one needs something done in a alternative method, but hasn't tried anything yet."

Then flag it with the already there flag of:

This question does not appear to be about lifehacks, within the scope defined in the help center.

Because if it doesn't ask for a alternative method, because it didn't try anything it is off topic and therefore, not a Lifehack.

But I fashioned a message from this close message:

Please clarify your specific problem or add additional details to highlight exactly what you need. As it's currently written, it’s hard to tell exactly what you're asking. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question.


My message:

Please clarify your specific problem or add additional details to highlight exactly what you tried. As it's currently written, it’s hard to answer exactly what you're asking. See the Scope of Lifehacks for help clarifying this question.

This is would need to be linked to the Official Site Scope, but I think it is a un-necessary message.

Related:

Should we require a certain amount of research from people asking questions?

  • 2
    "but doesn't have the means or time to even attempt it." Then the reason it doesn't work is that it takes too long. – Mooseman Dec 19 '14 at 14:59
  • @Mooseman I didn't think of that :) – Pobrecita Dec 19 '14 at 15:00

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